It seemed as if we came within a whisker of not having a Big 12 Conference any more. Although most college football addicts in this part of the country survived the breakup of the old Southwest Conference back in the 1990s, would the same be true if the Big 12 went away just like the SWC?

At least many of the old SWC schools were involved with the merger of the Big Eight into the Big 12, so the schools merely were playing under a different banner.

However there are some University of Texas fans unhappy because their Longhorns did not join the Pac-10 when the invitation went out a few weeks ago. They seemed to think that the quality of competition on a game-by-game basis would be much stronger and more exciting for the fans that spend big bucks annually on Longhorn season tickets.

And the same is true about the Texas A&M fans who really wanted their Aggies to pull the plug on the Big 12 and join the Southeastern Conference. Again it was the loyal supporters of Texas A&M who wanted to see the likes of Alabama, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss and teams like that invading their stadium on a weekly basis.

In fact A&M athletic director Bill Byrne received a couple hundred e-mails from Aggie fans who wanted Texas A&M to join the SEC. One was laced with profanities and prompted the 65-year-old Byrne to respond in an angry voice mail telling the writer if he came forth Byrne would kick his butt.

At the 11th hour, the brass calling the shots for the University of Texas declared they would remain in the Big 12.

So the other schools — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and even Texas A&M – who probably would have formed a Southeast Zone of the Pac-10 along with Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State remained in the Big 12 but without Colorado and Nebraska, who opted to leave for the Pac-10 and Big 10, respectively.

And the remaining schools who would have been left out in the cold to fend for themselves — Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State — still had a conference that wanted them.

And now that the Big 12 is reduced to 10 schools with the new set-up starting the 2011-12 school year,  the downside is that there will be no post-season Big 12 title game to the dismay of Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, in whose brand-new stadium the game was contracted to be played through 2013.

However, most of the league’s coaches and athletic directors see a real bright side to the Big 12 being reduced to only 10 teams. Instead of each football team playing every team in their division or zone and three opponents from the other zone, they will play a total of nine conference games each year—one more than before—with no more divisions.

Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman was the first coach to comment about the new setup. “I like the idea of playing everybody in the conference. After nine rounds of football, whoever’s left standing in the end is the champ.”

Longhorn boss Mack Brown concurred. “That’s fair because we all play each other and we have a true champion,” he said and added, “Four times in the past 14 years our team that has had a chance to go to the national championship game has lost in the conference championship—and knocked us out of the BCS.”

Brown was referring to the 1996 Nebraska, 1998 Kansas State, 2001 Texas and 2007 Missouri teams that suffered a late knockout. In 2003 Oklahoma lost in the Big 12 title game to Kansas State but still played in the national championship game.

The new 10-team league will really be sweet for the Big 12 basketball programs. “Not to take anything away from Colorado or Nebraska, but our basketball league just got even better,” Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said last week.

The basketball teams will play 18 league games instead of 16 and will still have a postseason tournament. Each team will play all Big 12 opponents at home and away, which means a powerhouse program such as Kansas will have to visit each league arena every year.
“I’ve always talked about it,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said of playing Kansas twice in a season. “I might live to regret it.”

Baseball will be the least affected of the three major sports because neither Colorado nor Big 12 survivor Iowa State even field baseball teams, so the league lost one baseball team in Nebraska, whose program has struggled of late.
Big 12 baseball teams will continue to play three-game weekend series against their eight other foes, with one team idle each weekend, followed by an eight-team post-season tournament.

Although many Aggie fans are distraught about passing on the opportunity to join the Southeastern Conference, it may not be a two-way street. This week’s edition of The Sporting News has an article on the SEC coaches and one of the questions posed was how they felt about expansion.

Ole Miss head football coach Houston Nutt, who is the dean of the SEC’s multi-million-dollar coaching tree beginning his 13th consecutive season at a league school replied, “I love this league, love the teams that are in this league. It’s going to take something pretty special now to start adding teams. I like our league the way it is.”

And a relatively new SEC coach, Bobby Petrino of Arkansas added, “I don’t know how much tougher this league can get. It’s an all-day job right now.”

A&M’s Turgeon pretty much summed it up pointing out the importance of preserving the “100-year tradition” of playing the likes of Texas and Baylor in league games.

Although the Big 12 is only 14 years old, UT, A&M and Baylor played together in the Southwest Conference for 82 years while Texas Tech joined the SWC in 1958.

KWICKIES…The Houston Astros missed a chance to salvage the final game of the weekend series against the Texas Rangers Sunday at Minute Maid Park after building an early 4-1 lead. Hard-luck starter Felipe Paulino (1-8) left the game with a 4-3 lead but million-dollar ace reliever Matt Lindstrom blew the lead in the ninth after walking two Rangers. Texas scored in the 10th making a loser out of Sulphur, La., native Casey Daigle. After the game it was announced that Daigle, catcher Kevin Cash and reserve outfielder Cory Sullivan had been optioned to Round Rock, replaced on the Astros’ 25-man roster with top prospect catcher Jason Castro, third baseman Chris Johnson and speedy outfielder Jason Bourgeois. Perhaps General Manager Ed Wade figured that if the Astros are going to lose 100 games this season they might as well do it with their future players.

Sunset Grove golfer Ernie Dyer got his second hole-in-one within a year when he aced the 143-yard Par 3 No. 12 hole last week. Along with the congrats for his ace will be a $100 check from the Men’s Golf Association’s treasurer.

Lumberton native Clay Buchholz hurled a three-hit shutout for Boston Sunday as the Red Sox blanked the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0. It was Buchholz’s 10th win of the season against four setbacks.

JUST BETWEEN US…Although Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shot identical scores of 287 in last weekend’s U.S. Open, neither score was good enough to win as they both were three shots behind winner Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, two behind runner-up Gregory Havret of France and one behind South Africa’s Ernie Els. Both Tiger and Lefty had ample opportunities to move up on the leader board, as Mickelson started the final round with a birdie and never had another one. Tiger bogeyed five of the first 10 holes and could never make a move. Perhaps an American golfer will bring home the British Open title next month.